The Last Town #2:Preparing for the Dead(8)By: Stephen Knight
“I am,” he said. “I’m still the low man on the totem pole, so I get all the scut jobs.” As the newest patrolman to join Single Tree’s small police force, Hailey had to work all the thankless jobs, such as traffic control during the annual film festival held in Single Tree. In years past, it had never been that big of an affair, but as more Hollywood talent found their way to the desert hamlet, the event was beginning to grow. It was one of the town’s biggest attractions during the fall, and Hailey had already been nominated for the job.
Suzy smiled and pouted her lips. “Poor boy,” she said, with a light laugh. Hailey laughed back, and she reached across the table and touched his hand. “Don’t worry, I’ll come and keep you company … in between watching movies.”
“How sweet of you,” Hailey said. “You already have tickets?”
“The tribe gets a couple dozen, and I just happen to have two,” Suzy said, squeezing his hand again before leaning back in her chair. “Victor gave them to me. He told me to take you, if you weren’t working.”
Hailey raised his brows. “Victor told you to take me?” Suzy Kuruk was the tribal leader’s niece, and also one of his subordinates. Hailey had nothing against Victor, who was pretty much a decent enough guy, even though he played the stoic Native American part to the hilt. But that he would be suggesting his twenty-year-old niece cavort with a white man from Single Tree seemed out of character for him.
Suzy straightened the collar on her khaki reservation police uniform. “He likes you,” she told him. “He thinks you’re respectful toward him, not like some of the other town cops. He appreciates that.”
Hailey felt his brow furrow, as if of its own accord. “Why wouldn’t anyone be respectful toward your uncle? He’s the leader of the tribe, and also the head of the reservation police.”
Suzy shrugged. “Your chief always treats him like a civilian, not like a police officer. So do a lot of other guys, like Whitter and, ah, what’s the tall guy’s name? Santoro?”
“Yeah, Wilbur Santoro. I can see why Victor doesn’t like him, he really is a dick.” Hailey looked up as Danielle Kennedy approached their table. She walked almost without a limp now, he saw, courtesy of the new prosthetic leg she wore. She was a few years older than he was, had graduated from high school and gone off to join the Marines while he was still in middle school. His only real memories of her from his youth was when she babysat him and his brother. One night, she’d allowed him to stay up with her and watch Halloween on cable, which had terrified him so badly that he hadn’t been able to sleep all night. Just the same, he never told his parents, for they would have been angry that their nine-year-old boy had been subjected to such fare.
“How are the lovebirds doing?” Danielle asked, smiling down at them. “Everything all right? Mike, you want another Coke?” She pointed at his almost-empty glass.
“I’m fine, thanks,” he said.
“Not eating much of your cheeseburger,” Danielle noted. “Does it taste worse than usual, or is Suzy spending too much time flirting with you across the table?”
“I don’t flirt,” Suzy said, smiling. “I only arouse.”
Danielle laughed. “Okay, I’m going to leave that one alone—”
Hailey’s radio chirped, and he reached for it with a scowl. “Sorry,” he said to the two women.
“Hey, I’m cool with it,” Danielle said. “How about you, arouser?”
Suzy shrugged as she loaded up a fork with spaghetti. “It is what it is,” she said.
Four minutes later, Hailey was pulling a department Excursion to the curb in front of Single Tree Pharmacy, the town’s only full-service drugstore. The owner, Hector Aguilar, was standing out front with a trio of lanky, dark-skinned teenage Indian boys. The boys looked downcast and sullen, while Aguilar looked pissed off, which wasn’t unusual. Aguilar was one of the bitterest individuals Hailey knew, an expert at alienating almost everyone in the town. He wore a white pharmacist’s smock over his street clothes, and his thick-rimmed glasses were perched on the tip of his narrow nose. He was a short, portly individual who always seemed to be on the verge of exploding into a flop sweat.